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What it's like living under temporary legal status for a decade

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

To mark the 10th anniversary of DACA, we also wanted to hear directly from some of the people who were impacted by the program. Reyna Montoya lives in Phoenix, Ariz., where she leads Aliento, an organization advocating for changes to immigration policy and helping immigrants and families navigate their lives in the U.S. She's been a DACA recipient since 2012 and joins us now. Welcome.

REYNA MONTOYA: Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: So how old were you when you arrived to the U.S.?

MONTOYA: I was 13 years old. I had been living in the in-between, as I call it, for three years before we migrated permanently between Nogales and Arizona.

RASCOE: And so when you say you were living in the in-between, you were going back and forth?

MONTOYA: Yes. My mom would pick me up on Fridays at 2 p.m. from class, and then we would go and see my dad. And then at 4 a.m. in the morning on Mondays, I would put on my uniform, and I would drive back all the way to Mexico for 3 hours so then I could be dropped in front of my school.

RASCOE: Do you remember or did you have any idea that you were in the country but didn't have all the proper documentation that you needed?

MONTOYA: It was a little bit confusing, but I think it didn't really hit me until I was in high school when I started the college application process, and I got offered all these scholarships because of my merits and my grades. And I couldn't take them. I couldn't receive them because they asked for a Social Security number, something that I didn't have.

RASCOE: I mean, before DACA, how afraid were you of being deported? Was that, like, an everyday fear that you had?

MONTOYA: You try to make the best with the things that you have, but the fear was always constant. The anxiety and the stress from having to go to a school or going to the grocery stores and all of a sudden getting a text message saying, beware, there is a raid on Country Club and Southern or having to constantly see, like, all these different text messages that maybe Sheriff Joe Arpaio was going - doing the raids. So it was very, very difficult.

RASCOE: What has your experience been like living under DACA for the past 10 years?

MONTOYA: It's been a rollercoaster of emotions. I would say that, during the Obama era - right? - it was this sense of empowerment. Like, I remember getting my driver's license for the first time. And then yet during all of that time, it was constantly trying to navigate and understand what would happen if another president were to come and they were not supportive of the program, and now we know that story.

RASCOE: What were some of the other things you were able to do because of DACA?

MONTOYA: I was able to get health care for the first time. I had the opportunity to go back to school and get my masters in secondary education and became a classroom teacher, so I taught high school for two years. I had the opportunity to fund my own nonprofit organization to support young people like me because I didn't want them to experience the same struggles, the same thing. I bought my home for the first time in the summer of 2016. And so definitely it was that sense of, OK, I can catch my breath. I can try to live my life and pay it forward for the younger generations. And then yet, at the same time, you constantly have this sense of anxiety and stress at the back of your mind about, how long will this last?

RASCOE: Yeah - because it was supposed to be a temporary program. It is not a law. What do you make of the program 10 years in?

MONTOYA: I didn't think we were going to be here. As you said, I remember the words of President Obama still echoing in my head saying, this is supposed to be temporary, and it would allow Congress to do something about it. And then yet we are here almost 10 years where nothing has changed.

RASCOE: Do you think that lawmakers get that this is having a real impact on people like you kind of being in limbo? And do you think that they can figure out how to resolve it?

MONTOYA: That's a really tough question. I have met with so many senators and lawmakers. And I feel that they get it for a split second, right? But then they go into the next crisis, into the next thing. And then there's not that sense of urgency. And I think that oftentimes, they forget that we're not numbers. We are real people. And I would like for them to honestly give us a result and stop with the political games. Like, it's real people who have been in this legal limbo now for 10 years. There's been more than 80%, sometimes even 90% of the American voters that support the DREAM Act. I understand that immigration is a very complex issue, but why don't we start with the things that we already agree and get it done?

RASCOE: Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of Aliento AZ and DACA recipient, thank you so much for being with us.

MONTOYA: Thank you so much for your time.

(SOUNDBITE OF YELLOWJACKET'S "BEGIN THE DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.